Well, its that time of the year for the obligatory post addressing the question, “How much did I game in 2017?” This year I tried to keep better stats using BoardGameGeek. Here is my year:
If my math is correct, that is 124 plays of 59 different games. Actually, it’s only 57 different games because there are two expansions in there.
I have no real data to compare these numbers to because I admit I only sporadically logged game plays in 2016 and before. But there are a few trends I noticed myself.
Family Gaming: This was the year that the family started gaming together. Look at all the family games. From heavy games like Scythe to lighter fare in Kingdominothe game shelf is sagging a bit more this year.
In preparation for the arrival of a few new games this Christmas, I was updating my BoardGameGeek collection pages and noticed my profile page. There are two lists given, one is my Top 10 and the other my Hot 10. Looking at the two lists, I realized I had a methodology for creating the Top 10 list (based on my personal BGG rating) but I did not have a system for the Hot 10. Giving it a bit of some thought, I decided to use my Logged Plays as a guide. The resulting list is actually a good reflection of my year in gaming.
My logged plays games are a bit unbalanced. From January to July it featured one or two wargames a month. Beginning in August, the RockyMountainNavy family started family game nights every weekend. In the last five months of the year my gaming changed from wargames to more family boardgames. The pace of gaming also accelerated; so far in December I have already played more games that all of January to July put together. So here is my Hot 10:
As much as I play wargames solo it is actually rare that I play solo games. Agricola: Master of Britain is an easy-to-learn yet hard-to-master game that uses interesting cup mechanics to reflect shifting allegiances of tribes. I also like the escalating victory conditions that constantly force you to achieve more – sometimes more than is possible.
Scythe marked the real birth of family board gaming in the RockyMountainNavy this year. One of the heavier games we played this year, we have not played in a while and need to get this one back to the table soon.
Probably the only “real” wargame in my Hot 10. At first I was a bit surprised this was in my Hot 10 but then I thought about it; I really enjoy this CDG-design and the shorter play time means it can land on the gaming table more often.
At first I was a bit negative on The Expanse Board Game but I have warmed to it. I want it to land on the table a bit more but in the last game Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy was ruthless on his brother who swore revenge. So far he hasn’t had a chance, but when it comes I’m sure it will be glorious to watch.
A lucky thrift-store find, I posted earlier how this is actually a reskinning of the Kinderspiel des Jarhres-winning Ghost Fighting’ Treasure Hunters. A fun cooperative game, it probably will be superseded in a future Hot 10 by Pandemic and demoted to the kids collection for Mrs RMN to use in her teaching.
Given the short play time and our usual Dynasty play where we play three games in a sitting one could argue that this game is artificially high in my Hot 10. I disagree; Kingdomino fully deserves to be the Hot 10 leader not only because of my logged plays, but it is landing on the table with the RMN Boys even without me. Even the video-gaming oldest RMN Boy will join in!
So there is my Hot 10. This list helps me recognize what I have sensed all year; as much as I am a wargaming grognard this year I became more of a family gamer. This has resulted in many positive changes in the family. Not only do we spend more time socializing together, we also use games to guide our learning. The boys have learned so much more about the American Revolution and space exploration thanks to gaming. Even Mrs. RMN, a non-gamer, is touting the value of board gaming to the parents of her students.
I got two good solo plays in, The Expanse Board Game and Pacific Fury. I really need to get more wargaming going. With the coming of winter (hard to tell with unseasonable upper 70’s outside) I hopefully will get more tabletop time to do so.
Looking forward to November, my niece will be visiting. Last time she was here she became obsessed with Ticket to Ride. This time the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get Scytheto the table with her. We shall see.
The youngest RMN Boy needs to work a bit on his writing, so we ask him to write a short item on weekends. This weekend, he wrote about the new game arrival, Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016). What follows is his short essay (very lightly edited by me). Note that when he refers to the “game mat” he is taking about the Player Boards.
Overall, I think the game Terraforming Mars is a great game because of the cards and game mat, but I wish the game mat was more 3D-like.
The cards in Terraforming Mars are one of the reasons I like this game. The cards are what helps build your Corporation. Cards can also help or hurt fellow players. Cards help get money or resources or sometimes both. Finally, there is a variety of cards, over 200.
The game mat is another reason why I think this is a great game. The game mat is very easy to read and nice looking. The game mat works well with the money and it makes you feel rich with all the gold cubes!
I do wish the game mat was more 3D-like, like the game mat in Scythe. The Scythe game mat has holes to hold the cubes. The game mat in Terraforming Mars is too flat and if you accidentally hit the table, the cubes will move.
For all these reasons; the cards and the game mat, and even though I wish the game mat was more 3D-like, I still think Terraforming Mars is a great game.
RMN Dad’s Comment: I wish he talked more about the game play in Terraforming Marsbut that will come with time. We have already looked at GamerTrayz and we may be making an order in the near future.
With regards to the game itself, Terraforming Marsis actually a text-dense game; although there is much symbology used on the Project Cards they ultimately must be resolved through a careful reading of the card. This can be challenging considering the RMN Boys are a middle-schooler or on the Autism Spectrum with a reading disability. It is a testimony to the careful editing of the text on the cards that we all found them easy to understand and implement, although the strategic application of the cards will take many plays to grasp!
Little RMN took the two American carriers, Enterprise and Hornet. The Japanese fleet command was divided with Middle RMN sailing carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku while I sailed light carriers Zuiho and Junyo.
TFoM starts with a both sides searching for the other. This is how the initial hand of Combat Cards is built and determines advantage – the first to find the third carrier gets the first VP. Advantage in turn drives the use of doctrine; the Confident side (leading VP) has to follow their Admiral’s Doctrine while the Desperate side (behind in VP) gets more Combat Cards and doesn’t have to follow doctrine.
At the end of the search phase the Japanese were Confident and the Americans Desperate. This means the US player could have 9 Combat Cards in his hand but the Japanese were limited to 7 – divided between the two players. This in turn meant Middle RMN had 4 cards while I only had three.
With the fleets located the battle switched into launching airstrikes. TFoM uses Action Cards to help determine the order with each carrier being dealt an Action Card. One turned face-up, the Confident player can “steal” one of the opponents cards and switch them. Each Action Card allows for one of three actions – launch full airstrike, launch a partial airstrike and make repairs, or repairs only. Cards earlier in the action order go first but don’t have as many actin points as later cards. This means earlier cards allow for the “first strike” but later cards might create “the heavy blow.” As luck would have it, my carriers drew Action slots 1 & 2, the Americans got 4 & 5, and Middle RMN with the heavy Japanese carriers drew 5 & 6.
Zuiho and Junyo both launches strikes. The American carriers tried to hide in an area of Low Clouds which adds range to strike movement. Even with the challenge, both strikes arrived over the American carriers in a Fueled status. In the resulting battles, the American CAP and Anti-Aircraft fire proved mostly effective and only a lone hit on Hornet resulted. The American airstrikes focused on the light carriers and damaged Junyo. The later Japanese strikes from the heavy carriers succeeded in hitting Hornet once more.
In the second turn, the carriers generally held range, but this time the Japanese heavies and the Americans had the top 4 slots of the Action Order. By the time the round was over, Junyo and Hornet were sunk. With that, the Americans withdrew and the Japanese side was the winner. Close to the historical result, but a bit of a let-down to play.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
TFoM is a very formulaic game. Each carrier in the Action Order follows a strict turn sequence. In a two-player game this works just fine but in a three-player (or maybe four-player?) scenario there is lots of downtime for the third player. On the plus side, combat is very easy; first compare a pool of combat dice (highest SINGLE die wins) then roll for damage against a damage track found on different cards.
Our gameplay experience was a bit blah. I generally knew the rules but had not played in a while making the first round a bit slow as it was necessary to reference the rulebook several times. Play was faster on the second round, but the formulaic sequence of play made the game feel more like a checklist then a narrative experience. We finished the game but the RMN Boys are not anxious for a replay.
When I first started wargaming nearly 40 years ago I was in it for the simulation. I was unabashedly a simulationist – the more “real” the game was the more I liked it! Looking back, I now realize that the best games I ever played (i.e. the ones of remember) featured great narrative moments (like the one time in Star Fleet Battles I spectacularly lost the battle when I failed my High Energy Turn and tumbled my ship). These days, I seek a more narrative experience in the battle. I have really discovered this with the start of our family game nights; the RMN Boys and I connect better when a game builds a narrative and is not simply a simulation. This may be why games like Conflict of Heroes or Scythe or 1775 – Rebellionare landing on the game night table repeatedly; the gameplay itself builds an enjoyable narrative experience.
The Fires of Midway is not a bad game. Given the level of abstraction represented by the cards and simple map it can hardly be called simulatonist. But the formulaic gameplay makes finding the narrative experience difficult. Maybe if we play it with only two-players and are fully familiar with the rules we might find that narrative experience. Until then there are other games to play.
The RockyMountainNavy Saturday Family Game Night series continued this week with Nexus Ops. I have the original Avalon Hill Games, Inc. version from 2005. This game is good, but showing its age. In it’s day it probably seemed innovative enough; by today’s standards its a bit stale but still makes for a good light, family wargame.
The players each lead a corporation exploring a strange planet. Each corporation is trying to explore the planet, gaining the most income from mines while buying units to fight and control areas. Victory Points are scored for winning battles or completing Secret Missions. The first player/corporation to 12 VP wins. Each player/corporation has the same player mat with identical cost and capabilities. The only difference is the starting money; starting earlier means less initial income. The middle of the board is an area known as the Monolith; only certain units can enter this space and possession gives the owner two (2) Energizer Cards (special abilities for reinforcement, movement, or combat) each turn.
We played a three-player game with Little RMN starting off, Middle RMN second, and myself third. Play initially was slow as all three corporations explored the board. Little RMN jumped out and took the Monolith, only to be ejected by me. I took full advantage of my Secret Mission cards and laid down many, but most were only one VP making my march toward victory slow. Little RMN eventually caught on and started playing his Secret Mission cards, and was quickly catching up as his were of the two and three VP-each variety. Middle RMN was accumulating money and making both of us worried. Eventually, Little RMN and I clashed over the Monolith and mines along our exploration boundaries, but I was unable to devote my full attention to him because I was worried about the storm that might come at me from the other direction. Eventually, my slow but steady strategy worked and I made my 12 VP on a few fortunate plays of Secret Mission cards just ahead of Little RMN sweeping me away, and just as the Middle RMN was making a giant purchase of killer units that surely would of swept me away too!
After the game we talked about the game mechanics. We all agreed that it was very simple with little variety. Sure, the board will be different each time, and the Exploration chits vary, and going first starts with less money, but the corporations themselves are symmetrical with no difference other than the color of the bits. After playing games like Scythe or 1775 – Rebellion recently this symmetry was very…vanilla. This doesn’t make Nexus Ops a bad game – just not as interesting as more recent designs.
Nexus Ops will stay in the Saturday Game Night series rotation, but I don’t expect it to be played that often. Maybe when we are looking for a quick game on a short game night or if we introduce new players it may land on the table.
Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) has quickly become the game-of-choice for Little RMN. We have played it three of the last six Saturday Family Game Nights. This weekend we added in the Invaders from Afar expansion. We played another 3-player game where I won using Rusviet/Agricultural with 91 points against Nordic/Mechanical (71 pts) and Togawa/Mechanical (26 pts.)
Some reviewers and critics accuse Scythe of starting out as a series of solo games, or of feeling to “samey” ever time. After the second game I was starting to feel the same way. However, when I got the Invaders from Afar expansion, it reminded me to look at each factions special abilities. These asymmetric abilities are what sets each faction apart and to win one must take advantage of these differences.
Most importantly, each faction has a different movement advantage. In our game, the Rusviet can go from any Village to/from the Factory. The Nordic workers can swim across rivers, and the Togawa can jump to Traps. In our early games we didn’t pay too much attention to the special movement and thus our first mechs invariably were for Riverwalk.
Secondly, each faction has a special ability or characteristic. For Rusviet it is “Relentless” which allows the player to pick the same area of the production mat each turn. For Togawa it is placing/arming Traps. These asymmetric (overused word) abilities again distinguish each faction. Proper use can assist in the run to victory.
Recognition of these differences, and how to use them, is key to the game. Unfortunately, in last night games the Middle RMN Boy drew Togawa. You have to understand that the Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and his ability to rapidly process information is challenged. Drawing Togawa from our newly purchased expansion he had no real time to study his faction and figure out how to take advantage of his faction’s abilities; especially the new Trap rule which is a key special ability. More than anything else I feel this contributed to his low scoring.
All of which serves as a reminder that games are for fun. I am going to sit down with him (not his brothers – help him feel important) and we will discuss each faction. I think if we do this, it will help him “see” what makes Scythe an impressive game. In the end, I hope it will keep the game “fun” for him instead of making him feel left behind. After all, we are a family and need to remember that gaming together is more important than just winning.